In sending his disciples to go and minister, Jesus told them He was sending them as “sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matt. 10:16). There has to be a great reason why our Lord uses four different animals in one verse to describe the relationship, qualities, and character of the people who would be speaking, and the ones to whom they would be speaking. A couple of prayers to consider as ones sent:
“God, I know this world is a rough place for sheep.” “Jesus, why would you send sheep to go where there are wolves who would like nothing better than to have a nice lambchop?” People hurt people. Hurt people hurt people. Jesus is sending these men to their own Jewish brothers and sisters and the reception of the gospel message and the people who bring it is sometimes not well received by ones even who appear to be what they should be. The answer to the question above has got to be framed in the loving protection of the “Great Shepherd” (Ps. 23:1 -6) who watches over His sheep, lays down His life for His sheep, and always lovingly cares for His sheep (John 10:1 -18; 1 Peter 5:1 -8). What can wolves do when sheep are in the hands of the Good Shepherd (Rom. 8:31 -39)?
“God help me to have a serpent ’s wisdom in this rough world.” “Be wise as serpents.” The word “wise” is not the normal general word for wisdom which comes with experience, knowledge, and understanding, but rather, a practical look at “cause and effect” and how that will impact the future. In context, Jesus would talk about the very real “wolves” and “serpents” these preachers and apostles would face —dragging them into court, persecuting, calling names, making accusations, and thinking the worst of them. When in the territory of a serpent, Jesus says, we need to think like a serpent!
“God help me to have a dove ’s harmlessness in this rough world.” In honesty, it feels far more natural to have the “harmlessness of a serpent” especially when wrong and difficulty come (James 3:7 -10). In wanting to be as harmless as a dove, we can fail to be wise as a serpent. In wanting to be as wise as a serpent, we can fail at being harmless as a dove. When tensions get elevated, blood starts pumping in the ears, eyes begin to see red, these three prayers can help yield the “peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Jas. 3:13 -18). The desire of Jesus for His “sent ones” should always ring in our ears.